Capitol Updates

CAPITOL UPDATE – March 20, 2020

Spread the News! Please forward this message to other NSEA members via their personal email. They may click here to sign up and receive our Capitol Update newsletter. Stay informed with up-to-date information on education and school finance legislation.

  • Legislature Suspends Regular Session Activity
  • Emergency Coronavirus Aid Package Proposed
  • Executive Order for Virtual School Board Meetings
  • Engage in Political Action from Home

Legislature Suspends Regular Session Activity

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this week the Legislature suspended its session until it is safe and necessary to call members back, which may occur as early as next week to adopt an emergency aid package. On Monday, March 16, Speaker Jim Scheer announced the indefinite postponement. Below is the message sent by the Speaker regarding the decision:

Colleagues -- As promised, I am giving you an update on the legislative session in light of COVID-19. In consultation with Senator Hilgers, speaking with public health authorities, the Governor, as well as input from many of you, we have made the decision that the current legislative session will not reconvene tomorrow and will be postponed until further notice.

We have made this decision primarily for the health and safety of the state and to protect the health of the members in the body. The Governor encouraged this weekend that public gatherings of more than 50 individuals should be postponed, a recommendation also made by the CDC. Even with non-essential staff not in the chamber, and with senators from around the state at the Capitol, we have concluded that suspending the session is in the best interest of the state.

In addition, of paramount importance is ensuring that we have the tools to fight the coronavirus. We have spoken with the Governor's office about the potential need for an emergency appropriation to assist in that effort. Be prepared to be called back to session for the limited purpose of passing any emergency appropriation. This could be as early as next Monday.

This means that the Legislature will not be in session tomorrow. If the need arises to reconvene the body for an emergency appropriation, we will inform you promptly.

We will provide more details when we have them and continue to provide you a daily update. In the meantime, we are pursuing how best to clean the chamber as requested by a number of members. This is a fluid situation and one that changes daily. We appreciate your understanding and flexibility. Please contact Senator Hilgers or me with any questions. – Jim

This past weekend, Governor Pete Ricketts issued an emergency declaration for the state. It can be found online in its entirety here.

Senators and their staff remain available for communication via phone or email. Most in-person meetings have been either canceled or rescheduled to be conducted electronically. Your NSEA Government Relations Team will keep you updated as announcements are made.

Emergency Coronavirus Aid Package Proposed

Nebraska lawmakers will likely reconvene next week to take up an emergency appropriations package in response to the novel coronavirus. The Governor’s office is proposing a $58.6 million emergency appropriation, which will comprise the following: $38.1 million for public health efforts to respond to the virus; $17 million for DHHS to cover increased staffing and overtime at state-run care facilities; $3 million for COVID-19 testing; and $344,000 for health and county emergency communications.

The plan would be to amend a bill already at the second stage of debate, then advance it to the final round of debate on Monday. March 23. Under legislative rules, the bill would lay over on Tuesday and a final vote would be taken on Wednesday, March 25. The appropriations package would need to be passed with an emergency clause, allowing it to take effect as soon as it is signed into law by the Governor.

No announcement has been made regarding other pending 2020 legislation while senators meet. Remaining in limbo are the budget bill, LB1008, which is waiting for second round debate; the property tax bills – LB974 / LB1106; the education lottery bill - LB920; the student discipline bill - LB147; and the injury leave bill - LB1186. Until a formal adjournment is announced, all legislation remains alive and subject to debate and passage.

Executive Order for Virtual School Board Meetings

This week, Governor Ricketts issued an executive order to permit state and local governmental boards (including school boards), commissions, and other public bodies to meet by videoconference, teleconference, or other electronic means through May 31, 2020. The order is far reaching and covers employment grievance hearings. The full executive order may be read by clicking here.

The pronouncement is necessary for school districts to hold official board meetings and conduct public business following guidance issued by the White House Coronavirus Task Force limiting social gatherings to 10 people or less. The guidance is part of an overall public health strategy to increase social distancing to stem the spread of the coronavirus disease.

The executive order stipulated that all such virtual meetings must be available to members of the public, including media, to give citizens the opportunity to participate as well as to be duly informed of the meetings’ proceedings. The executive order did not waive the advanced publicized notice and the agenda requirements for public meetings.

Engage in Political Action from Home

Nebraska's Primary Election is May 12, 2020. We urge you to make sure you are registered and request a mail-in ballot before the May 1 request deadline. Register to vote by clicking here.

There are several opportunities for you to make a difference for candidates who support children and public education:

  • You can get an application to vote by mail at the Secretary at State’s website. All county election offices will accept early-voting applications up to 120 days prior to a statewide primary, general election or special election.
  • Your help is needed to make phone calls or write postcards for our NSEA recommended candidates!  Please contact NSEA Director of Political Action, Brian Mikkelsen at brian.mikkelsen@nsea.org or at (402) 432-3397 if you are willing to help in this important effort.
  • You may have already received mail from the U.S. Census Bureau. The 2020 Census will determine congressional representation, influence how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding is distributed every year, and provide data that will affect schools and communities for the next decade! You can complete the 2020 Census via the paper form mailed to you, over the phone, or online by clicking here.

Thank you for your support of public education and your professional association – the NSEA!